And that’s just one of the reasons to go to Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Located on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge, there are plenty of reasons to visit the modest suburb of Fort Lee, New Jersey: it was once known as the cinema capital of the World, has a 33-acre park with cliffside hikes and, more recently, a simple crossing of the Hudson River offers New Yorkers some of the best Korean food outside of Manhattan and Flushing.
A (very) Brief History: Named after a military encampment during the American Revolutionary War, Fort Lee evolved into a bustling movie mecca in the early 20th century, home to the nation’s first permanent movie studio in 1910 (just a year later, 11 major studios were in town). The arrival of the George Washington Bridge in 1931 put the city front and center, with its connection and proximity to New York City. Thus opening the doors to a constant flow of newcomers, the most important of which now is American Koreans.
While Koreans have lived in Fort Lee since the 1970s, Fort Lee has seen an increasing influx of Asians (42% of the population currently identify as Asians) from the 1980s and 1990s, and more particularly the Koreans – who constitute nearly 25% of its population.
Initial attractions in Bergen County (which has upper percentage of Korean Americans from any county in the United States), and in particular Fort Lee, understood the ease of getting to Manhattan and a suburban setting with NYC in its backyard. Koreans have since opened hundreds of businesses in the region (from 2000, there were already 130), resulting in a thriving multi-ethnic community that thrived. But the recent and rising levels of extreme violence against Asian Americans have tragically affected all parts of the United States, including New Jersey– and in particular the Koreans, who are among the second biggest ethnic groups who report being victims of hatred.
Just a half-hour drive away via the FDR and I-95, Fort Lee is an easy drive from New York City, and there’s also frequent bus service from the Port Authority Midtown bus station. As always in these times, please mask yourself and walk away socially in a responsible manner – and most importantly, continue to be respectful, generous, and kind.
Korean food (and other food options) is amazing
History of Bada (bada means “sea”), which imports its live fish directly from South Korea, offers Korean-style sushi and sashimi. Snack 1080, considered by some to be the best Korean barbecue in North New Jersey, also offers dduk bo ssam (barbecue rice paper wraps) and a great sushi rice dish. Cafe Three, a cheerful French-Korean bakery located in a shopping center, offers impressive pastries and excellent cold beer, as well as savory products and bread. There is also Parisian bakery, which serves Korean-style baked goods as well as sweet cakes, cookies, tapioca buns, and savory empanadas.
Upscale Korean-style steakhouse Prime & Beyond also has Korean fried rice, kimchi, and soy stews on its menu. Hannam Chain, a grocery franchise that offers everything from Asian groceries to hardware stores, also has a mini food court inside that is worth a visit. Sa Rit Gol isn’t just a place for classic Korean fare, it’s a community spot where dad golfers and millennials taste great stews and jokbal (pig’s trotters).
More stews (and jokbal) can be found at Gajma Tang Tang, a playful version of the Korean words for potato stew. Korean comfort food is enjoyed at Sik Gaek Gugu (the original location in Queens, featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, has now closed), known for its donkatsu (fried pork chop) and ddukbokki, a Korean rice cake dish. BCD Tofu House– with 13 locations coast to coast – offers a variety of spicy tofu soups, from soybean paste and kimchi to pork and seafood.
Other worthy (non-Korean) places include Soupdumplingplus, a staple for Chinese soup dumplings; Soba Noodle Azuma for soba noodles, cold and hot udon noodles, and Japanese appetizers (restaurant staff are also Japanese); Aquarius for authentic Chinese dim sum and Cantonese specialties in a modern space; SunMerry Bakery & Cafe for cream puffs and other Chinese baked goods. And last but not least, Hiram’s, a local outlet that has been a favorite for burgers and fried hot dogs since it opened in 1932 (and is now featured on the food trail of Anthony Bourdain, who hails from NJ) .
Social distancing in a 33-acre clifftop park, or by bike, bike, and boat
Fort Lee Historical Park, part of the historic Palisades Interstate Park Commission (which covers over 100,000 acres), is a 33-acre clifftop park with spectacular panoramic views. Abundant wildlife exists in the park, from blue claw crabs and bald eagles to red and gray foxes, white-tailed deer, reptiles and amphibians, in addition to an array of plant species. The Palisades Interstate Parkway also offers a 42-mile scenic drive, which stretches from the George Washington Bridge at Fort Lee to the New York State Line at Alpine.
Visitors can participate in a variety of Activities to this historic national monument. Canoes and kayaks can be launched at Bloomer’s beach, in addition to several picnic areas. Boaters can take advantage of two boat ponds and public boat launch, for larger boats and jet skis. Cyclists can take advantage of Henry Hudson Drive, the 11 km scenic drive. Fishing and crabbing are permitted along the park’s waterfront picnic areas and along the Shore Trail.
With over 30 miles of trails in the park, there is also plenty of terrain to explore, like Carpenter’s Loop, a 5.5 mile hike that begins and ends in Fort Lee Historic Park, as well as others. easy riverside walks and more difficult rock climbs. Barbecues are welcome in the four riparian areas of the park, while picnics are permitted in all areas of the landscaped park. (In winter, eight kilometers of cross-country ski trails open up and skiers are even allowed to take advantage of the hiking trails.)
From skin care to hair care, Korean beauty abounds
Sheet masks, glass skin, 10-step routines. K-beauty has taken the beauty world to dazzling new heights. Universally recognized for its use of transformative natural ingredients, Korean beauty has become the holy grail of skin care and beyond. With many Americans touting its constant evolution, revolutionary merits and recent news of the first Korean beauty brand to join the RE100 initiative (the promise to supply its production sites with 100% renewable energy), K-Beauty is just getting started.
And Fort Lee is full of great places for a beauty session K. Beauty of Korea has dozens and dozens of brands (and products) to meet whatever skin care, makeup, and hair concerns you have. can think of. Aritaum, an outpost of Korea’s mega beauty franchise, has a location in the Hannam chain with a plethora of products at their fingertips. Iris Beauty Studio offers herbal skin rejuvenation peels, makeup applications, facials and eyelash extensions. Korean-style body scrubs, facials and massages are available at Spadew. For facials and other skin care and beauty services, visit Beau Esthetic and Vicky Skincare Lounge. For hair salons, there is Jaya Hair Salon, Juun Hair, and Hidy Hair Studio. In addition, other natural products like high quality Korean ginseng are available in the Root Terra health and beauty store.
It was the Hollywood of the East Coast (before there was a Hollywood)
Thomas Edison is said to have invented the first cinema camera in New Jersey in 1907, so perhaps Fort Lee’s reign as first epicenter of cinema is not so surprising: the first studio built and operated by a woman, Alice Guy Blaché, was established in Fort Lee (1912, Solax). This is where the first horror film, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Universal Studios was filmed (1913). The Marx Brothers appeared in their first film here (1922, Humor Risk). The first African-American “talkie” was shot by pioneering African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux at the Metropolitan Studios in Fort Lee (1931, The Exile). And this is where the term “suspense” was born.
While these cinematic projectors have long since died out, the Barrymore Film Center, which is dedicated to celebrating Fort Lee’s roots as the birthplace of the American film industry, is slated to open in late 2021. The 250-seat theater (built by the Borough of Fort Lee and operated by the Fort Lee Film Commission) will host major film retrospectives, foreign film screenings, film festivals and museum exhibitions, as well as emerging filmmakers.
Until then, get your movie fix with a trip to the IPIC cinemas, where you can enjoy dinner and a movie (literally, with their wine menu and dinner at the theater). They even screen old world Hollywood classics like the next one Kill a mockingbird and Citizen Kane.
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